Maria of Nassau (1555-1616)

Maria (who was called Mayke) was William the Silent’s oldest daughter and the only one of his children able to be with him for a considerable period of time. They developed a close bond. When William had to go off to wage war, Mayke felt a strong sense of responsibility. She organised the family’s financial affairs and took her half-brother Maurice, half-sisters Anna and Emilia and grandmother Juliana under her wing.

From the age of eight, Mayke lived at Margaret of Parma’s court, during the period of political unrest. While William fled from Philip II, her brother Philip William was kidnapped in Leuven and held captive in Spain. Dismayed by this, Margaret fortunately allowed Maria to return to her father at Dillenburg.

They must have been fraught days for young Mayke, but this turn of fate unexpectedly brought her closer to her father. During his exile, she had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him. Time her much younger brothers and sisters would never have with him, because in 1572, William returned to the Netherlands without his children to fight against Spanish rule. Maria was very concerned about her father’s situation; during that period she wrote several letters to him, even when she had not yet received a reply to the previous one. As oldest daughter, Maria looked after her half-brother Maurice and half-sisters Anna and Emilia and her grandmother Juliana of Stolberg. She dealt with affairs in Germany on behalf of her father and managed the finances and the allowance her father kept sending to Germany.

Her letters make clear that she also worried about her father and the situation in the Netherlands. It was 1577 before she was finally reunited with her father, when all his children were taken to Dordrecht at William’s request to meet his new spouse , Charlotte of Bourbon.
From a letter from Maria to William the Silent, written on 18 July 1573 at Dillenburg Castle:

‘Maria is pleased with the letter she has received from her father and is very happy he is thinking of her. Such an honour he does not forget her. How good to hear her father is in good health. She thanks God for this good news and will never be happier than when she hears of his good fortune. May this continue to be so. Maria is horrified to hear the city of Haarlem is still under siege. She hopes the enemy will not win and all will end well. She is constantly praying to God to deliver Haarlem from its enemies soon.’

Read more about Maria’s life

© Image: Adriaen Thomasz. Key, Portret van Maria van Nassau [portrait of Maria of Nassau], ca 1580-1590, oil on panel, Museum Prinsenhof Delft